Department of Homeland Security contract seeks to ‘hack’ game consoles to obtain user data

microsoft plans to dominate the world of entertainment with kinect xbox 360

Anyone who has ever played a few games of Call of Duty or Halo online knows that communities like Xbox Live aren’t exactly models of good behavior. But the federal government believes the occasional bursts of profanity may not be the worst of what’s going on according with consoles, and it wants a way to dig deeper.

According to forensic experts, pedophiles are increasingly using gaming systems to exploit children, while terrorists are using it for communication. With this evidence, a contract was awarded on April 5 by the Naval Supply Systems Command to Obscure Technologies for the research and development of “hardware and software tools that can be used for extracting data from video game systems.”

With today’s practice of owners jailbreaking consoles in order to play pirated games, gaming companies have fought back with hard-to-break encryptions. As a result, the extraction of data, according to the contract, is a rather complex process and one that the Department of Homeland Security believes can only be achieved by Obscure Technologies. For the small San Francisco computer diagnostics and forensics company, likely with sales under $500,000 and less than five employees, the contract award was for a sum of $177,235.50.

“Analysis of the game systems requires specific knowledge of working with the hardware of embedded systems that have significant anti-tampering technology. Obscure Technologies has substantial experience in working with such systems. Obscure Technologies has the ability to do cradle-to-grave turnkey servicing of complete hardware systems design,” the contract states. But what may have attracted the government to this company was its lead engineer’s ability to reverse engineer Microsoft’s Xbox.

According to Foreign Policy, which first broke the story, law enforcement agencies came to the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate requesting a system that can extract data from consoles. The DHS then delegated the responsibilities of heading the research and executing the contract to the Naval Postgraduate School.

With the multi-function nature of modern consoles, including access to social networking profiles, the Internet and peer-to-peer messaging, there’s plenty of interest to law enforcement, but it’s difficult to access. Under the impression that game console data is impervious to being hacked and therefore safe from authorities, pedophiles have in fact been using consoles as a haven for exploitation. In 2008, the FBI announced the alarming rate with which Xbox Live was being used by pedophiles for luring and communicating with children.

Aware of the issues surrounding privacy, the contract explicitly states that Obscure Technologies will only crack consoles purchased out of the United States for the duration of the research. As for the data to be extracted from the overseas consoles, the DHS plans on making their research and data publicly available at conferences and academic journals, but under the “constraints of the Common Rule (CFR 46) governing the use of human subject data.” In other words, any identifiable information pertaining to the owner of the consoles will be scrubbed.

While law enforcement officials have expressed their interest in obtaining gaming information for the purpose of identifying predators and terrorists, you can’t help but wonder about how officials will begin using the to be developed technology for the other purposes, as well.

Gaming

Google’s Stadia is the future of gaming, and that’s bad news for our planet

Google’s upcoming Stadia cloud gaming service, and its competitors, are ready to change the way gamers play, but in doing so they may kick off a new wave of data center growth – with unfortunate consequences for the environment.
Gaming

These awesome free-to-play games might be even better than the ones you paid for

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially popular League of Legends.
Computing

Amal and George Clooney want to change the world. Can Microsoft help?

Microsoft and The Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ) unveiled the TrialWatch app Thursday morning, a new tool in CFJ’s ongoing TrialWatch effort to shine a light on injustice in courts around the globe – which too often are simply…
Cars

Keep your driving record squeaky clean with these top-flight radar detectors

Nobody likes getting a speeding ticket, but these gadgets can help. Check out our picks for the best radar detectors on the market, from the likes of Valentine One, Escort, and Beltronics.
Computing

Tablet or notebook? Our favorite 2-in-1 PCs give you the best of both worlds

If you can’t decide if you need a tablet or a notebook, then don’t bother. The best 2-in-1 laptops are both, and they can provide all the power you need. Check out our list for the best 2-in-1s for any user.
Computing

These are the best 13-inch laptops you can buy right now

With so much choice out there, how do you know which are the best 13-inch laptops? They should have beautiful screens, long battery life, and remain light and portable. This is a list of our favorites.
Photography

Luminar Accent A.I. can now recognize faces for more natural instant edits

Want to edit faster? Skylum Luminar's latest update enhances the Accent A.I. to use machine learning for instant enhancements. The tool now recognizes faces for more natural skin tones along with other enhancements.
Computing

These gaming monitors will transport you to another dimension

What are the best gaming monitors you can buy right now? We select five that are all priced under $900 packing premium technologies like G-SYNC and FreeSync, high resolutions, and fast refresh rates.
Computing

Intel’s 10nm desktop dreams may be dead — new road map pushes them beyond 2022

Intel may never release a competitive 10nm CPU on desktop if a new roadmap is to be believed. It suggests that Intel will rely on its 14nm process to at least 2022 and perhaps even beyond.
Computing

Turn your desk into a command center with the best ultrawide monitors

Top of the line ultrawide monitors have the deepest curves, the sharpest colors, and the biggest screens on the market. You’re going to want one, sooner or later. So why not sooner? These are the best ultrawide monitors you can buy now.
Computing

Corsair’s Ironclaw, Glaive gaming mice are tuned for performance and comfort

Corsair is adding wireless capabilities to its Ironclaw gaming mouse this year, while the Glaive RGB Pro has been updated for maximum comfort with thoughtful ergonomics. Both mice feature accurate tracking and durable buttons.
Computing

These cheap laptops will make you wonder why anyone spends more

Looking for a budget notebook for school, work, or play? The best budget laptops, including our top pick -- the Asus ZenBook UX331UA -- will get the job done without digging too deeply into your pockets.
Photography

Illustrator teases tool to recolor an entire graphic in a few clicks

Not a fan of the colors in your graphic, but dreading the process of replacing each and every one? Adobe Illustrator could soon have a new tool that recolors an entire vector graphic at once, using the color palette from a photograph.
Computing

Intel’s CPU shortage is no longer affecting Microsoft’s sales

As manufacturers pivot to using other processors like AMD in their computers, Microsoft has been able to survive Intel’s CPU shortage just fine and says it is no longer worried about the shortage affecting Windows sales.